Looking back, the state by state Coronavirus restrictions went just as expected: Texas gave businesses the choice to stay open or close for the most part, while California took a safer measure of a full lockdown, although it famously did not apply to its politicians.
While most of us are familiar with the reputation of these big states, not many people can tell you what a stereotypical New Mexican “move” is. After all it’s one of the poorest states in the nation, and as is American tradition, nobody gives a fuck about the poor.
Most New Mexicans will tell you that NM is the Land of Blunders. NM has amazing weather. A ton of oil. Great culture and history. Amazing food. Great Universities, one of them attended by the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos himself. Bill Gates also started Microsoft in NM. But at every turn, New Mexico blundered and it couldn’t capitalize on the huge opportunities it was presented with.
And it was the same old story with COVID-19.
COVID guidelines in NM were set by governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Before we judge any of Grisham’s policies, let’s summarize what her guidelines were.
– At the end of March, all non-essential businesses and K-12 were shut down.
– In mid-May, most businesses could be open, but with masks.
– In July, restaurants and breweries were forced to shut down again, and masks became mandatory including outdoors.
– Over the two weeks around Thanksgiving, all non-essential businesses were shut down, and people were encouraged to call the police if they saw any holiday gatherings of over 5 people.
Seems rather reasonable: As cases went up, there were more restrictions, and as cases came down, more things could be open. Sure, Grisham could have followed the data presented by the CDC showing business closures (specifically restaurants) aren’t effective , but her plan sounded logical on paper.
As a result, Governor Grisham gained national praise for her leadership during the early months of the pandemic.
But COVID cases kept going up. Then they outpaced national trends, and no one knew why. New Mexico disappeared from national headlines as a Gold Star COVID state.
Though this turn of events was a complete mystery to the rest of the country, some New Mexicans knew exactly what transpired – they just don’t talk about it much, perhaps due to embarrassment.
The secret was that throughout the entire pandemic, the film industry was open, hosting actors and actresses, productions crew, directors, extras, and catering services from all around the world.
Behind closed doors, Grisham cut a deal with the film industry classifying them on the top tier of essential services, on par with hospitals. She ensured that formal lists outlining which businesses were considered essential never mentioned the film industry. But most New Mexicans knew about this classification because if you’ve ever been around a film crew, everyone from the intern to the star actor are generally wild and love to hangout. Cocaine is everywhere, and I once saw in a movie that you have to remove your mask to do that. You also don’t want to be that one guy who insists on not sharing straws. The film industry was allegedly breaking COVID guidelines left and right nostril.
Even though the film industry claims they have very strict anti-COVID measures in place, they are clearly not working. Anecdotally, the majority of people I know who contracted COVID in New Mexico have been connected to the film industry in one way or another.
To be clear I’m not shitting on the New Mexico film industry, and fully supported their operation during COVID. I’m in the camp that everyone should be free to assess their own risk tolerance and act accordingly. Despite most filming sets creating COVID “bubbles” where everyone was tested, leaks happened frequently, and set workers went to work knowing those risks. The same principle should have applied to every other business.
But there’s a sinister “Cuomo” feel to Governor Grisham hiding the fact that the film industry was getting preferential treatment due to their financial leverage, completely mitigating sacrifices made by New Mexicans and small businesses owners who were told that the more they cooperate, the quicker the restrictions will lift. While many lost lifelong businesses and relationships, thousands of people continued to socialize behind closed doors, keeping COVID infections, deaths, and restrictions high.
Not to mention that this financially discriminatory strategy is extremely short sighted. Prolonging the COVID restriction pains by allowing the film industry to stay open undoubtedly increased the negative stereotypes people associate with New Mexico. Business closures means more unemployment, which means less taxes to spend on public services the state desperately needs. School closures mean a parent has to stay home to watch the children – away from financial opportunities. These types of desperate scenarios of losing jobs and needing to take care of kids are breeding grounds for theft, car break-ins, and robberies. Out of town film industry workers would undoubtedly be target #1 for these crimes, damaging the financial relationship NM spent years fostering.
New Mexico could have been a place that really controlled the virus and been a leader in viral infectious control. Or a state that kept everything open, supported businesses, and encouraged an influx remote workers into its metropolitan areas like Austin did.
But instead it blundered again because our politician prioritized their short term gains for its citizen’s long term pain.
All of us are hoping and praying that we’ll be back to normal soon through vaccines, herd immunity, or through more public awareness that COVID 19 only kills 3 out of every 100,000 people under 65 with no underlying conditions according to numbers from the CDC and the UK government’s Office of National Statistics (and that’s being generous).
New Mexico is a huge pot smoking state. But it’s still not legal so there’s no taxes collected to help our terrible school systems. There’s also corruption between the medical marijuana companies and the government preventing the issuance of additional grow licenses. NM could have been Colorado with marijuana. Could have been Seattle with Microsoft. Could have been San Francisco with Jeff Bezos and Amazon.
But it keeps on blundering.